How to Choose a Pet Guardian


By Linda Sommers Green
Attorney at Law

A Pet Guardian is the person or entity that will provide for the care of your pet in the event of your incapacity or death "”so choosing a guardian is important given it will be the person or place with constant, daily contact with your pet.

The Pet Guardian chosen to serve in the event of your incapacity may be different than the Pet Guardian who will serve upon your death. If you are incapacitated, and then regain capacity, it is imperative that your trust has provisions providing for the return of your pet(s); the last thing you want is to encounter a "custody" battle with the person to whom you entrusted your pet.

The Pet Guardian can be a friend, relative or other reliable person you   feel confident will put the well-being of your pet first. The Pet Guardian will receive payments from the trustee and provide continuous care based on your detailed instructions. These expectations should be discussed with the prospective Pet Guardian in advance to be certain they are willing to assume the obligation of caring for your pet. As a practical matter, you should take into consideration the life expectancy of your pet when selecting Pet Guardians. Additionally, many of my clients have several species of pets, so a different Pet Guardian may be chosen for each pet or each pet species. More than one Pet Guardian should be named as a backup; I tell clients that they could never give me too many backups as people pass away and circumstances change.

If you are having a difficult time finding someone to fill this important role, or in naming a backup, you might consider identifying a rescue, sanctuary or other animal welfare organization that will agree to serve as your Pet Guardian.

It is a good idea to name a Pet Panel, a group of several individuals, such as veterinarians, family members and friends, who would be responsible with locating a suitable Pet Guardian should all of those you named fail or cease to serve. The panel would interview the
prospective Pet Guardian and select the person/entity it feels would provide the best care for your pet, all within accordance to your wishes. The Pet Panel would also have the power to "inspect" the pet and the care of the pet, ensure that your wishes are being honored, remove a Pet Trustee or Pet Guardian and fulfill other roles you may prescribe.

Another important aspect of ensuring proper care for your pet, should you be unable to care for them, is that you properly identify your pet. There are horror stories about pet caregivers replacing the original pet with a new one to fraudulently perpetuate his or her right to distributions. An identification of the pet depends on a number of factors including the breed, types of registration for the breed, and so forth. Sometimes identifying the pet by unique physical attributes may be sufficient. In other cases, the pet may not be distinguishable from other animals of the same species, and you may want to consult a veterinarian about having a microchip implanted in the pet or obtaining DNA "fingerprinting," such precautions are relatively inexpensive and may also prove to be very useful if the pet is lost.

Additionally, your trust should allow you to identify future pets in an easy and efficient fashion, so that you do not have to formally amend   the trust whenever a new pet enters your family; however, be careful not to define the scope of covered pets too broadly so as to undermine the purposes of sufficiently identifying the pet, as discussed above. In the next issue I will discuss how to choose a Pet Trustee.


For any questions you may have in
planning for your pet, please feel free
to call Linda Sommers Green, at
(303) 984-9900.